07/07/2020

Transit’s Precipitous Decline

Transit ridership in the first quarter of 2017 was 3.1 percent less than the same quarter in 2016, according the American Public Transportation Association’s latest ridership report. The association released the report without a press release, instead issuing a release complaining aboutthe House Appropriations bill reducing funding for transit.

The ridership report is devastating news for anyone who believes transit deserves more subsidies. Every heavy-rail system lost riders except the PATH trains between Newark and Manhattan and the Patco line between Camden and Philadelphia. Commuter rail did a little better, mainly because of the opening of Denver’s A line and trend-countering growth of riders on the Long Island Railroad. Most light-rail lines lost riders, though surprisingly many streetcar lines gained riders.

In most cases where light-rail ridership grew, it did so at the expense of bus ridership. Los Angeles Metro gained 1.66 million light-rail riders but lost 8.73 million bus riders, or more than five for every new light-rail rider. Between the two modes, Phoenix’s Valley Metro lost 23,100 riders; Charlotte 20,200 lost riders; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit lost 193,100 riders. Similarly, Orlando’s commuter trains gained 22,700 riders but buses lost 98,500.

Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul lost bus riders but not quite as many as they gained in light-rail riders. Houston gained 192,100 light-rail riders but lost 154,200 bus riders. Minneapolis gained 337,000 light-rail riders but lost 270,000 bus riders. Only Seattle scored a large increase in light-rail riders (thanks to an expensive new line that opened March 16, 2016) without an offsetting decline in bus ridership.

Many individual transit agencies suffered particularly catastrophic declines. Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), which wants to build a $200 million streetcar line, lost 12.8 percent of its transit riders. San Jose’s VTA, the agency I’ve sometimes called the worst-managed transit agency in the country, lost 11.9 percent. Birminghan lost 9.8 percent; Cleveland lost 7.9 percent; and San Diego lost 6.2 percent. In San Francisco, Muni lost 6.4 percent, BART lost 5.6 percent, SamTrans lost 8.9 percent, AC Transit (Oakland) lost 0.8 percent, and Central and Eastern Contra Costa County lost more than 7.0 percent.

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